South Florida residents, Joseph Harvey and Anja Karin Kannell, were recently found guilty of one of the “largest financial loss cases to date arising from claims filed for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.” The couple had been filing false claims in order to benefit from disaster relief funds since 2008 by pretending to be victims of many disasters, including Hurricane Gustav and Tropical Storm Irene. Prosecutors also shared that they stole $340,000 from a fund set up by BP Oil. They used the stolen money to acquire lavish vehicles, boats, and rental homes. Harvey and Kannell have been convicted of over 70 counts and will face between two and 30 years in prison for each count.
Fraud expert Linda Webb, aka The Fraud Dog, says that disasters provide ripe breeding grounds for fraudsters to flourish. Fraudsters prey upon innocent disaster victims in the area or even more elaborate scams like this one, by simply setting up residence using identity theft in the disaster area and filing claims. During disasters, a large amount of claims are filed and the fraudster knows that if these claims are not investigated, they can collect the funds and never even have to be close to the disaster area. The fraudster is banking on the fact that due to the onslaught of claims, fully investigating all of them is not possible. It is imperative that all disaster claims are fully investigated. Also, if you are a disaster victim, don’t fall prey to fraudster temptation by escalating your own claim, or worse, file a false claim. Crime does not pay. It is hard enough going through a disaster so don’t be victimized twice by the fraudster, says the Fraud Dog.